MVP: Proudly Canadian, anything but desperate

Jan 11th 2008

CBC drama skates between melodrama, hot sex with realism and sweetness

by JOEL RUBINOFF

The RECORD

"Nobody's to go home hungry, sober or alone or I'll be highly insulted," jokes an upper crust hockey wife at a posh soiree to inaugurate the new season. "Here's to a good year and lots of great times and a great . . . ."

BONK! Before she can finish the sentence, her drug addicted husband -- who happens to be the team captain -- tumbles over the upper banister and crashes to his death two storeys below.

So kicks off MVP (9 p.m. on CBC), a wildly entertaining and remarkably accomplished Canadian hockey drama that -- in the same way NBC's Friday Night Lights is a football drama that isn't really about football -- is less about Canada's national sport than the egos, conflicts and off-ice romances behind it.

It's also a star-making vehicle for Elmira native Lucas Bryant, who -- as the softspoken puckslinger recruited as replacement captain -- finally finds an appropriate venue for the quiet eccentricity he's played to perfection in U.S. series like Sex, Love & Secrets, on stage in The Crucible and Zoo Story and, until he graduated in '97, in plays at Elmira District Secondary School.

"Good to see you again, Connie," says Canada's answer to Johnny Depp, sidling up to a woman he's never met, but takes a liking to when friends razz her about being a virgin. "We should get together again -- soon!"

The woman (Kristin Booth, a former Kitchener resident) is both shocked and intrigued. "I'm on a really clear path," she tells him later, when he stakes out the daycare she works at and bangs on the front door of her home. "I have plans and I keep focused.''

But Bryant's endearing oddball is hard to resist, as is everything else about this intriguingly confident Canadian series that -- here's a shock -- doesn't slavishly ape its American competitors.

One thing that gives it away from the start is its smart, evocative soundtrack, which includes Canadian bands like Sloan and the great early '70s Jesus song, Spirit in the Sky ("where I'm gonna go when I die"), played in its entirety in a way only budget-conscious Canadian shows forking out big bucks for U.S. song rights would do.

But it works, as does the idea of hockey players as smug, promiscuous national heroes -- Tie Domi anyone? -- their money-grubbing managers as manipulative archvillains and the accommodating "puck bunnies" who satisfy their sexual whims as the sports equivalent of rock star groupies.

Combining soapy melodrama and steamy sex with a quirky sweetness that makes the whole thing palatable, MVP succeeds where few Canadian shows before have before in creating a fully realized world that feels less like the arch construction of cordoned off screenwriters than an organic environment that could, and probably does, exist in real life.

"Desperate Hockey Wives," it's been dubbed by catchphrase-hungry network publicists.

The irony, of course, is that there's nothing desperate about it at all.

CHANNEL SURFING

Friday Night Lights (9 p.m. on MM), the 2004 feature film on which the current TV series is based, stars Billy Bob Thornton as a high school football coach who drives his players to excellence in small-town Texas. Lucas Black and Tim McGraw co-star.

"Put your glad rags on, join me, Hon . . ." That was considered a hip lyric back in 1954, two years before the movie offshoot of Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock (9:30 p.m. on TCM) incited violence in movie theatres and became a hit with a generation of frenzied teenagers (now a generation of not-so-frenzied 60-somethings).

Primitive in style and execution, the movie -- about a rock band that makes it big in New York -- is a pop culture landmark, enhanced not only by the music of Haley and crew, but of The Platters and a slew of now-forgotten one-hit wonders as well. History in the making.

In terms of intelligent sci-fi flicks from the atomic era, it's hard to top 1951's The Day The Earth Stood Still (11 p.m. on AMC), an affecting plea for humanity that holds up surprisingly well 57 years later. Michael Rennie stars with Patricia Neal and Lock Martin (as the killer robot, Gort.) "Klaatu Barada Nikto" was the catchphrase.


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